Archives For Youth Culture

 

“An Unsatisfying Account

A Review of
Hipster Christianity:
When Church and Cool Collide.

by Brett McCracken.

Reviewed by Chris Smith.

Hipster Christianity: When Church and Cool Collide.
by Brett McCracken.

Paperback: Baker Books, 2010.
Buy now: [ ChristianBook.com ]

[ For a thorough critique of this work, read
David Session’s review  in Patrol Magazine. ]

It’s rare that I am as disappointed with a book as I was with Brett McCracken’s Hipster Christianity.  For a long time, I have been interested in youth culture movements and their intersections with the life of church communities, and I am certain that there is rich ground for exploration of the creativity, energy and social criticism that these movements have injected into churches, particularly over the last four decades.  And on the flip side, there are undoubtedly a multitude of ways in which these movements have been co-opted within Christianity for ends related to church growth and marketing, which was the thought that popped into my mind when I first heard the book’s sub-title “When Church and Cool Collide.”  And my anticipation of the book was further stoked by its creative and entertaining pre-release marketing, “The Christian Hipster Quiz,” which made its rounds on the internet earlier this summer.  Unfortunately, however, Brett McCracken’s book fails to deliver, and his work has been the target of a number of recent pointed critiques (from John Wilson of Books and Culture to David Sessions of Patrol Magazine – whose excellent and thorough review leaves me little to say here).

To his credit, McCracken does, in the finest work that the book has to offer, pen a decent history of “Hip Christianity.”  His descriptive work, however, is overshadowed by his flimsy analytical work, particularly his theological work which never seems to be able to imagine much of a Christianity beyond evangelicalism.  McCracken does, over the course of the book, highlight a number of key facets of “hipster” movements within Christianity over the last decade – the emerging church, emphases on social justice and art, etc. – but these topics are addressed in a rapid and disconnected fashion reminiscent of a PowerPoint presentation.  I am certain that there is deeper narrative about the intersections of the Church and youth culture that could be told, and I suspect that David Sessions is right when he observes that such an account would not fit neatly within McCracken’s evangelical framework.  If you’re interested in a descriptive history of recent intersections of youth culture and Christianity, Hipster Christianity might be of some interest to you, but if you’re looking for deeper reflections about the significance of this history, then we must wait for a book that is yet to be published.

 

A Brief Review of

Witnessing Suburbia:
Conservatives and Christian Youth Culture
.
Eileen Luhr.

Paperback: U of California Press, 2009.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Reviewed by Chris Smith.

“I’m rockin’ the suburbs
Just like Quiet Riot did
I’m rockin’ the suburbs
Except that they were talented
I’m rockin’ the suburbs…”
— Ben Folds

The story that Eileen Luhr tells in her new book Witnessing Suburbia: Conservatives and Christian Youth Culture is a familiar one for me, because it was in essence the story in which I grew up.  This story is described by Luhr in the book’s introduction:

This book is a history of the suburbanization of evangelicalism and the “Christianization” of popular culture – twin pillars of the conservative shift in national politics during the Reagan-Bush era … [It] contrasts the old Christian Right – with its dogmatic resistance to youth culture per se – and the new “rock” evangelicalism, which embraced cutting-edge cultural forms and media in order to institute moral reform and broaden the impact of its proselytizing efforts.  These processes, in turn, abetted a hegemonic conservative politics grounded in uniting possessive individualism with home-centered “traditional values” (5).

Although Witnessing Suburbia is intended largely for academic audiences, Luhr tells the basic narrative in a compelling and very readable fashion, and we would do well to read it carefully and reflect on it in light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  There are many disturbing themes that Luhr unmasks here, but in short we begin to see the many syncretisms of American evangelicalism in the eighties and nineties – inextricably mixing the Christian faith up with right-wing politics, individualistic consumerism and family-based traditionalism.

As mentioned at the beginning of this review, I grew up in this era (graduating high school in 1992) and to a large extent was a Christian swept up in the youth culture of the times.   For several years, the primary genre of music that I enjoyed was Christian Heavy Metal (incidentally the subject of one of the book’s finest chapters).  Although I was on the fringes of this movement, I never really got sucked into the mainstream of Christian youth culture, and indeed it was perhaps my familiarity with the broader youth culture (particularly punk music, and its frankness in revealing the powers that be) that help me resist such an assimilation.  I’m sure it helped too that I never exactly fit the economic mold of middle-class suburban culture.  Luhr’s work here is brilliant, illuminating the dark depths of a history that has gone largely unnoticed.  I hope that it will spur in Christian circles much reflection on the Gospel and culture.  Luhr’s narrative in Witnessing Suburbia reveals a lot of “being conformed to the pattern of the world” (Rom 12:2) in recent evangelicalism, and in illuminating this cultural domestication, it has the potential to nudge us in the direction of transformation and the renewal of our minds.